The Virtual Draft

By Brian Zhang

Marooned in our homes for a month and counting, the NFL has given us a ray of sunshine in times of uncertainty, even if it was just for a couple of hours. 8 pm EST on April 23, 2020 marked the start of the most unusual, yet much needed NFL draft. Prior to this night, the last encounter with sports in America was on March 12 being the suspension of the NBA season. With all sports on hold due to the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic, sports fans were itching for some sort of entertainment, and boy did they get it. 

The NFL draft, which has been going on for over 80 years, has always been a vital aspect to the NFL. Broadcasted globally, it is an annual event where the NFL welcomes around 250 up-and-coming prospects for a shot at the big stage. With every team getting one pick in each of the seven rounds, coaches and staff must choose conservatively and carefully. Each of the 32 teams spends countless hours scouting and evaluating these players, in hopes to find a fit for their missing puzzle piece. With this in mind, you can now understand why this draft is so important: this is where the future of the NFL stands. 

Broadcasted live every year, the draft has every football fan lured to their TV, anticipating the new addition to their favorite football team. This year, there was a chance the fans would have to wait. Because of Covid-19, the NFL was hesitant to proceed with the draft virtually. Many unknown factors were going into it, as per usual when trying new things for the first time. Doing it virtually seemed to be prone to various mishaps, from the potential glitches to the WiFi connection. Just like online school, the NFL draft would be much more difficult than if it were in real life. But, as in saying the show must go on, the draft did just that; and it was a hit.

Despite all the cautions TV broadcasters and the NFL had, the first-ever virtual draft went along quite smoothly. As the three-day event wrapped up, Seth Markman, the vice president of production for ESPN, mentioned, “I thought a coach or general manager might put a towel on the camera or point it another direction, but there were zero issues,” He chuckled. “There were a couple of times that we lost a feed or two, but it quickly came back.” Along with being almost flawless, the telecast also exceeded expectations, racking in 15.6 million viewers across several different network systems, according to CNN. This turned out to be 37% higher from last year which now holds a new record for the event. It’s no surprise though, for the draft was just as entertaining as it would’ve been if it were in Las Vegas. Led by Commissioner Roger Goodell, the audience experienced every pick and reaction along with a virtual boo here and there. We fans got to witness the raw emotions of players and coaches, from excitement to despair to the feeling of accomplishment; we received everything wanted within a draft, plus more.

While known to be intense and critical, we saw the draft in a different light we don’t typically get—a more relaxed and amusing side. There was a more authentic and wholesome feel to the draft, with NFL coaches embracing their families, laughing, joking, and keeping the broadcast in a light and enjoyable mood. Even Bill Belichick, known to have a strict and serious persona, got into the spirit of things, letting his dog take over the show at times. The entirety of it all was bizarre and lighthearted, uncommon for the event, but something we could all use right about now.

With a new record in television history along with the much-desired sports programming for fans, everyone is happy. The NFL draft has been a great diversion to the heaviness we now face in reality. For the last couple of days we were able to celebrate, fume, and question each draft pick, bringing back the sensation we feel as fans. I commend the NFL for being able to give the people some happy spirit and hope at times as dark as this. The draft was a great reminder to stay connected with family, stay safe, and stay positive because we’re all in this together. Going on with the NFL draft was definitely the right move, and ultimately a virtual success. 

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